Miles D White
Chairman & CEO
100 Abbott Park Road, Abbott Park Illinois
Tel: +1 847 937 6100
Fax: +1 847 937 1511
Websites: www.abbott.com; www.ross.com
Since its establishment in 1888, Abbott Laboratories has expanded into 130 countries. It has its headquarters in Chicago, USA. While the parent company concentrates on pharmaceuticals, hospital and diagnostic products, its Ross Products Division markets “nutritionals”, including breastmilk substitutes. Located in Columbus, Ohio, Ross is the biggest infant formula manufacturer in the United States.
The company’s use of the endorsement, “1st Choice of Doctors”, to advertise its products was challenged by rival Mead Johnson. The statement appears on leaflets, Abbott-Ross’ website and on its formula labels. A US court ruled in favour of Abbott-Ross, permitting it to continue using the endorsement, in violation of the Code. “1st Choice of Doctors” on the label of Ross soy formula, Isomil, was considered misleading under New Zealand’s Fair Trading Act. Ross agreed to withdraw the product after New Zealand Commerce Commission inquiry in November 2000.
In 1999, Abbott was one of seven formula companies which the Italian Competition Authority found guilty of unfair marketing strategies, for agreeing to restrict competition on powdered infant milks and special milks for babies up to 4-6 months of age. The milks were made available only in pharmacies, at prices two to three times higher than in other European countries.
Promotion to the public
In Bolivia, the company places promotional brochures about Isomil and Similac in pharmacies.
A brochure titled “A gift to every Hong Kong baby” promoting Gain Plus is distributed in a 7-Eleven store in Hong Kong.
Company representatives (reps) visit shops in Taiwan once a week to advise mothers on infant feeding and use of Similac.
Company reps approach mothers in Taiwan in person and by telephone, recommending bottles and specific brands of formula. Mothers receive promotional brochures, free samples, bottles, bibs, diapers and gift bags directly from company reps or by mail.
Company reps in the USA give mothers magazines, leaflets, brochures and videos.
In the USA, the company gives a negative impression about breastfeeding, making it appear a difficult and elaborate process with statements like, “If your nipples are erect, there’s probably no need to prepare your breasts”. It advocates mixed feeding after four weeks with messages such as, “Breastfeed exclusively for the first four weeks to fully establish your breast milk supply. Don’t supplement with infant formula or water during this time unless directed to by your doctor or nurse.”
The Institute of Pediatric Nutrition in the USA is sponsored by Similac infant formula. The Institute provides the means for the company to collect marketing data and addresses through its surveys and when parents or professionals request literature.
Similac promotional materials such as booklets, shelf-talkers, advertisements and videos are found in a variety of outlets in Bolivia, Canada, Russia, the USA, the UAE and Hong Kong.
In Uruguay, promotional materials are limited to cereals and follow-on formula. Similac Advance 2 is also promoted on a growth chart
The company’s homepage on the Internet advertises Similac. Breastfeeding is presented as a choice with little benefit over formula feeding. Product names appear on pages ostensibly dedicated to breastfeeding promotion, where breastfeeding is presented as a difficult option.
Leaflets promoting the “Abbott Baby Club” sponsored by Gain Plus, and bookmarks advertising Gain Plus are found in doctors’ offices in Hong Kong.
In Taiwan, company reps give mothers in health facilities gift bags inscribed with the Similac name containing baby toothbrushes and diapers as well as free samples of Similac.
In the UAE, doctors are provided tear-off “prescription” pads on which they can mark with a single stroke the brand they recommend to their patients.
In the Middle East, the company uses a beautiful, starry-eyed baby to align its products with the look of a “new era”.
In the USA, mothers receive gift diaper bags marked with the Similac name.
Brochures and leaflets in the USA have such titles as “Buying Similac just got…easier”, “You want only the best for your baby”, “Feeding your baby”, “Guide for the breastfeeding mother”, “A new choice from a trusted Name”, “Feeding a Soy Formula”, “I am afraid my baby has colic” and “Diarrhoea can be dangerous”.
The company logo appears on promotional items given to (and displayed in) health care facilities, for example: posters in Italy, the UAE and Uruguay, thermometers in the UAE, clocks in Taiwan, calendars in Hong Kong.
Health facilities in Hong Kong, Italy, Malaysia, Canada, Taiwan, the UAE, Russia and the USA distribute information from Abbott on infant feeding.
Mothers are given company materials by health workers or can pick them up themselves in health facilities in the USA (e.g. “Similac Welcome Addition Club”, “You want only the best for your baby”), the UAE (“Doctor recommends”), Russia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy.
Health workers in Canada, the USA and Hong Kong distribute company gifts to mothers, while in Taiwan this is primarily the responsibility of company reps.
Promotion to health workers
Health workers in Italy, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, the UAE and the USA are given gifts bearing the company logo, ranging from pens and rulers to wall charts, coasters, calendars, diaries, writing pads, mouse mats and, in the UAE, file covers and a briefcase for a symposium. Growth charts, weight and height charts and videos promoting products have also been seen. One health care worker in the USA even received a gift of fresh fish!
Complementary foods called Abbott Extra Cereal, labelled for use at four and five months, are handed out as samples and promoted to health workers in the UAE.
with adorable (and very promotional) Similac baby gazing into the new millennium..
“Return the survey and get your Free Rosco Teddy Bear”.
Free or low-cost supplies
Unsolicited donations of Similac and Isomil are widely reported.
In Italy, the company takes pre-arranged turns with other formula companies to donate to health care facilities.
In Taiwan, the company is one of four that pay a contract fee to be the exclusive supplier of infant feeding products to hospitals. The fee is calculated according to the number of babies fed by the participating hospital and can be as much as US$ 25-30 per baby!
No picture or text which may idealize the use of infant formula. No use of terms “humanised” or “maternalised” or similar. Similac is similar to what?
Labels on products in Côte d’Ivoire and Taiwan are not in the appropriate local language.
Labels in the USA idealise the use of the product with such claims as, “Supports good growth similar to that of infants fed breastmilk”, “The makers of Similac have a product that is just right” and “Closer than ever to breastmilk”.
In the USA and Canada, products do not include the text “Breastfeeding is best” or warn about the health hazards of inappropriate preparation, as required by the Code. The labels are also used to promote other products.
Labels for Similac and Isomil in the USA, Canada and Uruguay do not include the required text “Important Notice”, nor do they contain a statement that the product should be used only on the advice of a health worker.
Practically all formula and complementary food labels in all countries carry the cuddly Ross bear, idealising the product.
Stretching the rules
The company sponsors meals, meetings, conferences and training sessions in many countries, such as Italy, the UAE, Taiwan and the USA.
In the UAE, Hong Kong, Italy and Mexico, the company promotes Formance and Per Mamma formulas for mothers that are claimed to enable breastfeeding.
In the USA, the company sponsored health worker training on a river cruise.
In the UAE, free supplies of Abbott products were given to two Baby-Friendly hospitals at their request, violating the spirit of both the Code and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
Reports from other countries
In Singapore, a pamphlet called “Helping your baby grow & develop: 8-12 months” having pack shots of infant formula is distributed in a pharmacy.
The company offers to give a can of 400g Isomil soy protein follow-up milk in exchange for any empty formula can at six redemption venues in Singapore. The advertisement for this promotional technique carries health and nutritional claims and shows a baby’s picture and a pack shot of Isomil.
A seminar promoting Gain follow-up formula in Singapore carried the theme, “Multiple intelligence: Unveil the hidden talents of your child”. The advert for the seminar showed a “graduate” baby holding a tin of Gain formula.
The company sponsors public forums which include sessions such as: in a general hospital in Singapore, “Early nutritional investments in your baby” and “Understanding Milk Supplements are they useful?” and in Hong Kong, “Abbott Infant Care Talk”.